Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Stoner grabs pole position at Australian Grand Prix with hopes of winning title

Reuters, PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia

Ducati’s Damien Cudlin of Australia crashes during the third practice session at the Australian Grand Prix on Phillip Island yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Casey Stoner dominated qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix yesterday to extend his MotoGP record to 11 poles this season and boost his chance of sealing the championship with two races to spare.

Honda’s Stoner, who earlier slammed organizers for the bumpy state of the track, lapped the scenic seaside circuit in 1 minute, 29.975 seconds for his fourth straight pole at Phillip Island in trying, gusty conditions.

The Australian’s time was nearly a half-second faster than reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo and puts him in the box seat to clinch his home grand prix for a fifth straight time on his 26th birthday.

“Step by step we just continued to get faster and this afternoon we’ve done two race distances basically on hard tires and everything feels good,” Stoner told reporters.

“The soft tires will be quite a jump faster so we’ll see what the weather holds for tomorrow and how everything is, but we couldn’t ask for much more for this weekend,” he added. “I actually feel a lot more relaxed this weekend than I have at any other times in the last four years.”

Stoner can also seal the championship with victory on Sunday if Lorenzo finishes off the podium, but the tenacious Spaniard will line up next to the Australian on the front row and will be keen to put his rival’s title hopes on ice for at least another week.

With bad weather threatening, riders pushed hard early in an eventful session and a number came to grief as offshore winds buffeted the circuit.

American Ben Spies slid his Yamaha into the gravel at high speed at turn three and limped assisted from the track, but later emerged from the pit to post the seventh fastest lap.

Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama also suffered a spill, while Stoner returned to the pit in frustration after stopping at “Honda Hairpin” to appraise an apparent mechanical issue.

After fellow Honda rider Pedrosa topped the timesheets halfway through the session, Stoner roared out in the last 15 minutes to snatch pole and improve upon his time twice to the delight of local fans.

Lorenzo, who was left fuming at one stage during qualifying after being boxed in by his rivals, all but conceded the race was Stoner’s.

“It’s very difficult for tomorrow because he is really fast on his home track and he seems to have the bike in the best way,” Lorenzo said. “I’m trying to be competitive and fast, but it’s difficult and the most probability is for me to be second tomorrow — but anything can happen in the race.”

Honda’s Marco Simoncelli snatched a front row spot, finishing third after pipping Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista in the last few minutes of the session.

Andrea Dovizioso lines up on the second row on his Honda next to sixth-fastest Ducati-rider Nicky Hayden.

Valentino Rossi’s struggles on the Ducati in a dismal first season continued, the seven-time premier class champion managing only the 13th-fastest lap.

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